Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Flood threat not over

With the forecast showing the potential for more rain, and the Rainy Lake/Lake of the Woods Control Board estimating Rainy Lake will rise another 40 cm (15.75 inches) over the next week, the local Emergency Management Group remains on high alert for the situation to worsen.
And it wants the public to do the same.

“Even though the sun has been shining the last few days and we haven’t gotten rain, this situation is very serious,” stressed Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig, who chairs the EMG.
He added residents should assess their personal situations, and be aware that more water could be draining on their property or into their basements.
“The fact of the matter is we know the lake is going to rise,” McCaig said.
“Even without rain we know the lake is going to rise. . . .
“Everything drains into Rainy Lake,” he explained. “It takes a while for some of this water to get here and it’s starting to get here.
“People should know this is a very serious situation and that this emergency will be in effect for quite some time because it will be quite some time before we can accurately assess what the impacts of this large amount of rain has been on our community,” said McCaig.
“We’re just starting to find sinkholes,” he noted. “We’ve had sewer breaks, we’ve had water breaks, and they’re all a result of this.
“We’ve had a dock break up—and there’s more to come.
“There’s shore erosion taking place up at the Point and we expect more shore erosion,” he warned.
McCaig said the EMG, which consists of town officials, as well as representatives from Couchiching FN and local agencies ranging from fire protection and victim services to the Red Cross and medical services, is meeting regularly.
It not only is keeping a close eye on the current situation, but thinking ahead to hypothetical scenarios if the flooding gets far worse.
“With our emergency control group over the years, we have done these types of exercises where we’ve contemplated sheltering and stuff like that,” McCaig said.
“Although we’re not at that point now, all of the people are brought together so that they can contemplate what they’re doing internally in their own organization,” he explained.
“Everybody is on alert and everybody is ready, with the realization that if we get a certain kind of storm, this thing could go south anytime,” McCaig stressed.
“There could be a drastic change and we have to be able to adapt.”
McCaig said the public should know that the EMG convenes regularly throughout the year, and has done “dress rehearsals” in the form of tabletop exercises to prepare for various crises.
He said some good news is that the town is confident the water treatment plant will continue to be able to provide potable drinking water no matter what “because of all the testing in place and because our clear wells are quite a high distance beyond any increase in the upper river affecting it.”
“Our processes are protected from any kind of contamination,” McCaig added, noting the town also provides water to Couchiching.
Meanwhile, the town is continuing to take precautions to strategically position sandbags in the most vulnerable areas and, in particular, is monitoring the La Verendrye Parkway and properties along Idylwild Drive.
Sandbagging continued at La Place Rendez-Vous today as the rising lake levels are threatening structures on its property.
Sandbagging also is taking place at Rusty Myers Flying Service and at some parts of Couchiching.
The public is asked to use extreme caution when travelling within the Point Park, as there has been some significant erosion of land and water has washed over some of the roadways there.
And anyone boating on Rainy Lake must continue to take precautions to avoid any debris that may be floating in the water.
In related news, the demolition of the government dock on Sand Bay is nearly complete. A couple of sections still remain, but aren’t an immediate threat at this time.
The rest of the dock will be demolished as soon as the winds settle and proper equipment is available to complete the work.
In the meantime, the town will make sure markers or buoys are in place as soon as possible to help boaters identify hazards.
The town’s sewage treatment plant went out of bypass mode late yesterday but the town still is advising all residents in Fort Frances and Couchiching to continue with their management of water consumption.
They also are asked to continue to keep all sump pumps and weeping tile disconnected from the sanitary sewer system.
Residents can continue to call the town’s emergency information line at 274-1818 with any questions or concerns.
Couchiching, meanwhile, is preparing to evacuate about 40 residents in the Five-Mile Dock area who are most at risk from the rising waters.
The community is readying its Bingo Hall as an evacuation centre.
If access to that location is prevented due to road erosion, Couchiching is looking to the Town of Fort Frances to house evacuees at the Memorial Sports Centre.
Across the river, the U.S. National Guard is being called in to help Koochiching County with flood relief efforts, notably in giving volunteers some relief in their sandbagging duties.

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